Where to begin writing this was a bit of a challenge due to all that’s contained within the work in question.
Originally serialized from 1976-78, I re-read MW to compare its dealing with the sexuality of the main characters in their very explicit homosexual relationship to the way those character choices have become headline news from both Marvel & DC. The problem with this approach became immediately apparent, because while the relationship is a large part of the book and the characters in it, it isn’t emphasized over any other detail about them; it isn’t the headline of the story but rather just a facet in its construction.
The comic is a dramatic procedural which deals with the leak of a toxic material and the fallout as well as cover up that comes from that. Elements that are reminiscent of Kurosawa’s High & Low along with parts of The Wire are all brilliantly laid out in Tezuka’s signature style. This is one of those works that at first it seems like Tezuka’s cartoony character work would not fit the tone of the story, yet his exaggeration of human emotion through the drawings works to pull you in and make the story even more engrossing. It also helps in making the characters instantly separate and recognizable, some even to their career (the thinking outside the box police inspector with the large nose is a the best example of this). Some see MW as Tezuka’s retaliation against the gekiga movement that was going on in Japanese comics in the 60s and 70s, a movement that saw artists wanting to give their work a new word or branding to separate it from the Disney inspired more childish looking manga (think Graph Novels vs. Comic Books). That interpretations makes sense especially with how the book begins with a man looking to get his son back from a kidnapper only to find his son dead when he delivers the money, and then, is promptly murdered by who we come to learn is one of our main characters.
Michio Yuki is that character, and he’s charismatic, handsome, intelligent, hardworking and completely lacking in morality or decency. He at times comes off as a supervillain in the book without a proper adversary to quarrel with. All his would be opponents are working within the confines of the law or their personal faith, which hampers their ability to compete with his utter lack of morality. The story does a good job of keeping him as both a villain and a protagonist by balancing his victims between those who are responsible for his condition (being exposed to the leaking MW at a young age), and the families and people with ties with them to show the larger ramifications of his actions. I would go into more detail here but a great deal of the thrill of this comic is to witness the swathe of chaos and destruction he causes across Tokyo as the depths and nature of his attacks magnifies and changes. In this respect, he very much mirrors V from V For Vendetta, stripped of the costume and the totalitarian setting. His opposite number and lover is portrayed by Father Garai, a catholic priest who joined the church after witnessing the same toxin leak as Yuki, and thus vowing to absolve and save him from his ‘demons’. This relationship is predicated on events from their youth, and while flashbacks are very brief, there is a clear evolution and change in the dynamic of that relationship as they have grown up together.
What astounded me most about the comic is, while it is 582 pages, it showcases so well both the pacing of the story and how cleanly split the tasks of writing and art have at giving information to the reader in such a way as to keep it from snagging. Combine that with the large cast, the constantly changing panel structure and the perfect eye for where to place the camera for every panel, and every conversation becomes as captivating as the more trilling stuff when Yuki goes to his plotting. MW is a book that is all about how every piece is important and connected and how even the best laid plans can go astray if even one piece is unaccounted for. The thing that I keep noticing as I read more Tezuka is that he doesn’t have books that are not a good, all encompassing look, at what he does. Every work is a great entry into the man’s work, and with that, a great entry in manga as a whole, especially while Tezuka is coming out under Vertial who put really great production into all his books.